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And so the road reaches SAN GIOVANNI VALDARNO. Originally known as San Giovanni in Altura and, later, Castel San Giovanni, it is the major production centre of this part of Arezzo Province. It was founded in 1299 by the Florentines as part of a project traditionally ascribed to Arnolfo di Cambio. The town was one of the “new lands”, the terre nuove, and it was planned inside a rectangle of walls, rebuilt in the latter half of the 14th century, from which four gateways opened. Between the two principal piazzas, Piazza Cavour and Piazza Masaccio, the Palazzo Pretorio stands. Today’s City Hall, this building has also been attributed to Arnolfo, although it was enlarged in the 15th century and underwent subsequent reconstructions. On the walls of the portico supported by pillars, there is a large number of coats-of-arms, in both stone and terracotta, of the podestà and other appointed representatives who were there to carry out their orders from Florence. At the end of Piazza Masaccio stands the Basilica di Santa Maria delle Grazie which was elevated to the status of a Marian Shrine in 1986. It was originally erected in 1484 as a simple oratory, after a miracle had occurred in 1479 involving a 14th-century image of the Blessed Virgin. The building was enlarged in 1564-1569, and then lengthened in 1720-1725 with the construction of a large chapel which, as a result of damage suffered during the last war, was substituted with the present-day domed rotunda.
The façade dates to 1840 and is animated by a portico under which is a lunette by Giovanni della Robbia depicting the Virgin Mary offering her Girdle to St Thomas, alongside St John Baptist and St Lawrence, which can be dated to 1510-1513. Inside the shrine, and behind the high altar made by Bernardo Buontalenti assisted by Matteo Nigetti in 1597-1598, the miraculous image of Our Lady of all Graces by a Florentine artist of the 14th century is worth admiring. It is framed by the Glory of the Angels with a View over San Giovanni by Giulio Parigi. On the left, you will see some recently restored frescoes depicting Scenes from the Miracle of Monna Tancia, which explain the events leading to the construction of the Shrine and which were painted in 1510 by the Valdarno artist Luberto da Montevarchi, apprentice and assistant of Pietro Perugino who was painting between 1502 and 1523. Among other works, there is a canvas depicting St Joseph and the Baby Jesus by another artist born in the city, Giovanni Mannozzi who was called, in point of fact, Giovanni da San Giovanni and who lived between1592 and 1636. To the right of the Basilica is the Museo d’Arte Sacra di San Giovanni Valdarno. Established in 1864, when the most valuable paintings from various churches in the city were collected together in the Basilica’s sacristy, this museum was reorganised in 1959, and then refitted starting in 1990. Recently, with the refurbishment of this building, the whole collection has been transferred to its present home and it is truly a lavish gallery of art. On display is Frà Angelico’s Annunciation which was originally, and until 1979, in the monastic church of San Francesco at Montecarlo, on the road leading from San Giovanni to Cavriglia. Dated 1430-1432, the work shows the youthful artist on the way to maturity. The frame around the painting is a 17th-century reconstruction. The predella, on the other hand, is original, and it shows scenes from the life of Our Lady: the Wedding, the Visitation, the Adoration of the Magi, the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple and the Funeral of the Blessed Virgin. Other works worth noting include the triptych by Mariotto di Nardo depicting, on the central panel, the Trinity between the Blessed Virgin and Mary Magdalen, which is placed between St James the Elder and St John Baptist and St John Evangelist and St Anthony Abbot, from 1400-1405; the Madonna and Child Enthroned with St Anthony Abbot, St Lawrence, St John Baptist, St James Apostle and four Clients, the 1453 work of Mariotto di Cristofano, Masaccio’s brother-in-law. There is a Madonna and Child Enthroned and Music-making Angels, both by Masaccio’s younger brother, Giovanni di ser Giovanni known as Lo Scheggia; and Music-making Angels and St Ansanus and St Biagio by Paolo Schiavo, part of a large shrine from 1435-1440 housed in the Church of San Lorenzo. The Archangel Raphael and Tobias, dated 1467-1470, is by Giovanni di Piamonte, who assisted Piero della Francesca in painting the Legend of the True Cross in San Francesco, Arezzo. Then there is a Madonna and Child Enthroned with Six Saints by the Florentine artist Domenico di Michelino, from the mid-15th century, and the Annunciation by Jacopo del Sellaio dated 1472. In addition to valuable 15th-century works, you should note the canvas, Beheading of St John Baptist, signed and dated 1620 by Giovanni da San Giovanni and, from the same artist, two frescoes detached from the side niches of the external portico of the Basilica, the Wedding of the Blessed Virgin and the Annunciation both painted in 1621. From the high altar of the Basilica, there is a St Lawrence and a St John Baptist by Gregorio Pagani with the date 1621 on the frames. In the Museum, you can also find a splendid collection of sacred furnishings and hangings, as well as certain manuscripts belonging to the Basilica’s historical Archives.
If you remain in Piazza Masaccio, you find the 15th-century Palazzetto Ricorboli and, beside it, the 14th-century Chiesa di San Lorenzo which has a polyptych by Giovanni del Biondo depicting the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin, Saints and, in the top point, the Crucifixion, dated about 1374. There are other frescoes from the 14th and 15th centuries. At the end of Piazza Cavour is the Pieve di San Giovanni Battista built during the first half of the 14th century. The portico outside stands on columns which are decorated with tondi in the della Robbia style and from a later date. Close to this pieve, you will see the Chiesa della Santissima Annunziata which possesses a Madonna and Child by Maestro della Natività di Castello, from about 1460, and two canvases by Giovanni Sagrestani, an Annunciation from 1684-1685, and a Madonna with Child who is offering the holy Girdle to St Monaca and St Agostino. Among the different buildings in the city, the Casa di Masaccio situated in the Corso is worth seeing. Masaccio is the celebrated painter born in San Giovanni in 1401 who died in Rome at the young age of twenty seven years. Inside the building, which is today an exhibition centre, you can find the Municipal Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art.

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